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Business Objects Preps Revamped Business Intelligence Suite

Sure, Business Objects hopes to take some wind out of the sails of Hyperion’s System 9 release—but there’s more to XI R2 than meets the eye

Cognos Inc. versus Hyperion Solutions Corp. isn’t the only game in town when it comes to the next-gen business intelligence (BI) and business performance management (BPM) sweepstakes.

Business Objects SA last week touted a new version (i.e., Release 2, or R2) of its Business Objects XI suite. Given the convenient timing of its XI R2 release, you might suppose that Business Objects hopes to take some wind out of the sails of Hyperion’s System 9 release this week.

There’s almost certainly some truth to that. After all, Business Objects announced an executive reshuffling and introduced new mid-market bundles in conjunction with Cognos’ next-gen platform release last month. And XI R2 won’t be available until some time later this year, so it certainly seems like a conveniently timed released.

But XI R2 does boast several significant new features and enhancements—starting first and foremost with some incorporation of the BPM technology stack Business Objects acquired from long-time partner SRC Software in July. At the time, the SRC acquisition signaled Business Objects’ most explicit to date foray into the BPM space. Given the BPM-heavy platform announcements of both Cognos and Hyperion, Business Objects’ SRC gambit was well-timed. But Business Objects officials claim that the company has always been a comer, if not a bona-fide contender, in the performance management space.

“Certainly, a big part of our company strategy over the last couple of years has been to cement our leadership in our core business intelligence market,” said Lance Walter, vice-president of product marketing for Business Objects, in July. “Certainly one of the drivers has been performance management, business performance management, financial performance management—whatever you call it, it’s a category that has driven a lot of growth for Business Objects in terms of providing dashboards, KPIs, etc.”

At the time, Walter suggested that incorporating SRC’s technologies into the Business Objects stack should be a mostly trivial task. He cited, for example, SRC’s partnership with Business Objects, and he argued that much of the necessary integration work had already been completed.

When XI R2 finally ships, Business Objects says it will make good on this promise. One upshot of this, says Rob Lerner, a senior analyst for data management with consultancy Current Analysis Inc., the SRC technologies should constitute the core of an explicit BPM capability.

“Business Objects acquired the company for, among other things, its financial planning, budget, and consolidation software, which were gaps in the company’s product set, and for its ability to provide solutions for all customers, from small companies to enterprises,” he notes. “The flexibility is certainly complementary to a number of the company’s initiatives, especially in terms of its work to produce verticalized solutions for a number of industries, including healthcare, banking, retail, insurance, hospitality.”

Elsewhere in XI R2, Business Objects has cooked up a new natural language query capability, called Intelligent Question. Lerner calls it the most important new deliverable in R2, in part because it could make XI attractive even to companies that have limited in-house BI expertise.

The new Intelligent Question functionality “allows users to perform natural language queries to get answers to their business questions without building a query or even knowing the underlying systems,” he explains. “Intelligent Question allows users to construct questions and then to toggle down on certain language elements to sharpen the question.”

XI R2 also boasts updated versions of Business Objects’ Web Intelligence, Metadata Manager, and Composer products. Web Intelligence, in particular, gets a substantive shot in the arm, Lerner says, now that it can synchronize data from both relational and OLAP sources. “This is the first time that Business Objects has provided support for both relational and OLAP support in Web Intelligence,” he comments, noting that Crystal Reports already has this capability. “Metadata Manager essentially unifies metadata across the enterprise, allowing users to gain a consistent view of their data while, at the same time, tracking the changes made to a data source that impact the BI environment.”

And Composer should help to make Business Objects’ Data Integrator ETL tool a more usable solution, Lerner says. “Composer is essentially a graphical design tool that is integrated with Data Integrator and that simplifies the design of ETL process,” he writes. “The product provides a single interface for designing ETL processes, mapping jobs, defining business rules, etc., as well as capturing business processes and definitions that can be leveraged with other projects.”

About the Author

Stephen Swoyer is a technology writer with 20 years of experience. His writing has focused on business intelligence, data warehousing, and analytics for almost 15 years. Swoyer has an abiding interest in tech, but he’s particularly intrigued by the thorny people and process problems technology vendors never, ever want to talk about. You can contact him at [email protected].

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